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Lancers are in ‘the discovery stage’

Longwood University’s softball team enters the season with big shoes to fill after many key players graduated in 2019.

The Lancers opened their 2020 campaign this past weekend, going 2-2 at the Elon Softball Classic in North Carolina.

“I don’t think it was up to par for what I thought we were going to do,” Longwood Head Coach Kathy Riley said. “I just felt like there were in-game adjustments that we could have made and probably given ourselves a chance to win all the games.”

Longwood won 5-2 against the University of Rhode Island and 7-5 against Seton Hall University Saturday, Feb. 8, but then fell 4-2 and 13-3 to Elon University Sunday, Feb. 9.

“I felt like all phases of the game were not up to snuff,” Riley said. “I guess the saving grace is it’s early in the year.”

The Lancers are coming off a 2019 season in which they went 37-22. They won their fifth Big South Conference Tournament championship and went 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament.

Every senior on that squad was a key figure in the program: pitcher Sydney Gay, catcher Kaylynn “Bug” Batten, first baseman Karleigh Donovan, outfielder Jordan Clark, outfielder/third baseman Jessica Smith and outfielder Chelsea Whitcomb.

Riley noted it is a big deal when you have six starters that graduate, with five of them having started for at least three years.

The coach made a point to highlight the clutch play at the plate of Donovan and Batten.

“We’re going to have to grow into that and find out who has the acumen to be able to do those things,” Riley said. “And a lot of that’s personality and how you handle situations, so I think our team is probably in the very beginning stages of people learning to step up and take certain roles that fit in with what their capabilities are. So I think we’re in the discovery stage right now.”

In terms of identifying standouts for the 2020 Lancers, Riley said it starts on the mound, and she highlighted 2020 Preseason Big South Conference Pitcher of the Year junior Sydney Backstrom, junior Arleigh Wood and sophomore Angelina Sherba.

“I have seen growth with Sydney Backstrom in terms of being able to handle more each year that she’s pitched, and I certainly believe that Arleigh is very capable of being a leader when it comes to competitive spirit and drive and work ethic,” Riley said. “Even Angie has improved as well since last year quite a bit.”

The coach said new girls will be asked to do things.

Lancers freshman Nia Green is among those who have distinguished themselves in the first weekend of action.

Riley said she would also be relying upon the team’s two seniors, Kasey Carr and Destiny Martinez, for their experience on both defense and offense.

Longwood (2-2) travels to Florida for the Bubly Invitational, which runs Friday, Feb. 14-Sunday, Feb. 16.